On the list of things that are less likely to happen than being struck by a meteor are: winning the lottery, discovering buried treasure and being called out of nowhere to open for a superstar like John Legend or James Blunt.
That is, unless you’re Knoxville-based singer/songwriter Erick Baker.
“Things are better than I deserve,” he tells Xpress. “People keep saying, ‘You deserve this, you deserve this,’ but ‘deserve’ is such a strange word.” Instead, he’s chalking up his recent good fortune (which, by the way, doesn’t include a cash windfall) to being in the right place at the right time.
What happened was that Baker (who, since 2004, has been the lead singer of rock group Down From Up) decided to play a few solo numbers. He was performing at Knoxville club on the same night acoustic-folk artist Ray LaMontagne was in town on tour. LaMontagne happened into that club with his promotional rep from AC Entertainment, who liked Baker’s style enough to offer him some career advice. Over the course of a year, the friendly tips evolved into what Baker describes as “a business partnership.” The business happened to include high-profile opening slots for the likes of Legend, South Carolina pop-folk artist Edwin McCain, and—most recently—British pop star James Blunt.
When Blunt’s scheduled opener, quirk-pop artist Sarah Bareilles, had to pull out of the Asheville stop, AC Entertainment phoned Baker. Perfect timing: The musician had just released his solo debut, a six-song EP titled It’s Getting too Late to Say it’s Early.
The name of the disc reflects Baker’s personal credo. He says he had spent the past four years “spinning in place,” imagining a career in music that he couldn’t quite turn into a reality. When he went into the studio, he was determined to “seize the day,” he says. Early, forged with Baker’s now-or-never attitude and financed with his own money, is six songs long because that’s what the musician could afford to record.
However, fans don’t seem to mind the truncated collection. At the Blunt show, an audience of 1,500—all expecting to hear Bareilles—were quickly sold on Baker’s heartfelt lyrics, his emotive performance and his considerable, if humble, stage presence. That, and the musician’s lovelorn numbers like “Do I Ever Cross Your Mind,” helped him sell nearly 300 CDs at that show. Baker says he’s even had to order a second pressing of his disc.
“When I tell people about that whole night,” he recalls, “it’s like it was a dream that I had.”
But Baker knows better than to sleep through the opportunity. That show proved not just to him, but to AC Entertainment, that the performer (who is now tastefully accompanied by a viola player and a keyboardist) can capture an audience. Baker hopes to land an opening gig for a big-name artist on a large-theater tour, and has already concocted a wish list that includes “Ben Harper, who made me want to get into music.” He also notes, “Hearing Ryan Adams’ album Heartbreaker was a big moment for me. Trouble by Ray LaMontagne was big. Opening for someone like Feist or Norah Jones would be cool, too.”
His future also holds a full-length album. Despite the success of his EP, Baker doesn’t see an abbreviated track list as a new business model. “Now that I know that people like what I’m doing, I almost have that Ryan Adams complex where I want to put out everything I write,” he confesses. But, fascination of the recorded song aside, he’s quick to assert that his passion is for performing live.
“A lot of people can’t express what they feel,” he explains. Baker sees his music as giving a voice to what his listeners aren’t able to put into their own words. Proof positive: Baker’s set list of deeply personal tunes, sung with aching intensity, manages to connect with fans across demographic lines.
“I write the songs for myself,” Baker says. “It’s whatever I’m feeling, but the things I’m writing about are very universal.”
who: Erick Baker (with The Broomstars and Kellin Watson)
what: Soulful, pop-savvy Americana
where: Orange Peel
when: Saturday, April 19. 9 p.m. ($10. 255-5851)